Though the weather lately might seem to indicate otherwise, summer officially launched in downtown Basalt last Friday when Butch’s Lobster Shack opened for the season with an enhanced presence in the Midland Avenue space it first occupied last year.
Among the upgrades for the shack, which is situated in a lot next to downtown’s historic Kelly Block Building, are an enlarged deck, umbrellas to shade the tables, a waiting area with Adirondack chairs and an oversized pop-up tent covering the bar seating. More importantly, the shack this year has a liquor license and a second kitchen in a converted building elsewhere on the property to allow owner Butch Darden to meet the growing demand for his lobster rolls, oysters and other seafood offerings.
“One of the problems we had last year was that the kitchen in the shack couldn’t keep up with the volume,” said Darden. “So we’re optimistic things are going to be better this year.”
The spike in demand last year came as a result of the shack moving from the former recycling center space at the western end of Midland Spur to its current location. Darden was glad to be open in any form two years ago, but the recycling-center spot wasn’t conducive to drawing foot traffic most days of the week.
“We couldn’t get people to make the trek down there except on Sundays when there was the farmers’ market,” he said.
The space wasn’t the greatest, but it’s likely Darden would have stayed there were it not for an invitation from the new owners of the Kelly Block, who purchased the building in December 2017, to have Darden relocate to the shack’s current spot last year.
“They called me up and asked if I wanted to move there because they wanted to help create some vitality in downtown,” said Darden.
The move turned out to be a win-win for both the lobster shack and the town, as Darden’s many fans in the valley, cultivated during the decades he operated Butch’s Lobster Bar in Snowmass Village, turned out in droves to get their seafood fix. This summer, with additional seating, more cooking capacity and a full bar, Darden expects to be even busier, and if opening day was any indication, he’s right.
Despite unseasonably cool temperatures and the threat of rain, last Friday saw a steady stream of customers, including some who frequented the lobster bar back in the day and others who just stumbled upon the shack for the first time.
“For being such a crummy day, it’s been a pretty good turnout,” he said.
Among those who bellied up to the bar for a late lunch Friday were the father-daughter combo of Howard and Ali Cohen. Ali, who grew up in Basalt but now lives in San Francisco, joked that she flew in for Butch’s opening day, while Howard copped to more or less counting down the days until the shack opened so that he could bring his daughter there when she came home.
“The food’s amazing, just like it is every year,” he gushed.
Also seated at the bar was former valley resident Graham Frandson, who moved to California a few years ago but was so fond of Darden’s Snowmass Village eatery in his time here that he made the pilgrimage down from Aspen, where he was staying, to feast on two lobster rolls.
Given its al fresco seating and beach-like feel, it’s fair to say that the lobster shack has changed the complexion of downtown Basalt for the better and done more than its share to increase the vitality that Basalt residents claim they so desperately want. It’s the kind of establishment that encourages interaction between dining patrons and people passing by on the sidewalk or sitting for a spell in the waiting area, and it helps to belie the notion that downtown Basalt is somehow hurting for visitors.
As one might expect, getting the permission to expand and securing a liquor license weren’t exactly easy tasks (though Darden lauded the town for helping with the effort), but aided by his friend Tom Romero, a local carpenter and handyman, Darden got the permits he needed and spent the spring constructing the enlarged deck and getting the rest of the improvements in place to open on time. Now that he’s open – and summer has finally arrived – Darden anticipates having his best year yet since leaving Snowmass Village.
The shack will be open for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week through Sept. 20. If you decide to go, bear in mind that the shack accepts cash only and doesn’t take credit cards. That may change as the summer goes on, but for now, come prepared – and come hungry.